Exeter–Barnstaple Railway Line
How busy are its stations?


Why should we be interested in how busy the stations are?

Like most of its kind, the Exeter–Barnstaple rail service costs a great deal more to run than the fares passengers pay to use it. The difference is made up by subsidies paid out of our taxes and rates.

We in NDPTU support the principle of subsidising public transport where necessary. But we believe that the public has a right to know how the funds it provides are used and to participate in decision-making about whether they should continue to be deployed as they are or be used differently.

To do this, it is helpful for us to know about how busy the line as a whole is. But this is not enough, for while some parts may be well-used, others may not. To get at this, we need reliable information about how busy each station is.

Knowing how busy each station on the line is won’t tell us everything we need about whether the subsidies we provide are being used well. It will, however, be one of the key factors we must take into account.

Barnstaple station platform


Portsmouth Arms station with no passengers

Barnstaple station; over 1,200 passengers per day. A good use of resources, surely!


Portsmouth Arms station; about three passengers every other day, or one every third train on average. A wise use of public funds?

How do we find out how busy the stations are?

The usual way of determining how much individual stations are used is on the face of it very simple: count the number of passengers who get on and get off the trains at each station. We cannot do this as individuals. Fortunately, however, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) does it for us.

Even for the ORR, it’s not practical to do this directly, day in and day out. But it can reach a reasonably accurate figure by adding up the number of tickets sold to people for travelling to or from each station.

The usual practice is to do this for a year at a time. The result is normally expressed as ‘footfalls’ (a passenger buying a ticket to getting on a train registers as one footfall; so does one getting off). Most of the accounts of station usage, and even of whole lines like the Exeter–Barnstaple line, which we see in the press are represented in this way: so many footfalls per year.

In spite of the jargon of ‘footfalls’, this measure has the virtue of being easily understood. Indeed, we in NDPTU use it as the starting point for many of our calculations, not least because annual footfalls for every station in the country are readily available from the Office of Rail and Road.

Yet it has a major drawback. For many, a single figure of, say, 10,000 footfalls for a particular station, sounds like a lot. It makes it look as if the station is quite busy. This can be an illusion, as Figure 27 below shows.

How can we get a clearer picture of how busy each station is?

10,000 footfalls for a station for a year may sound like a lot. But when you work out how many this is for each day you get a quite different picture. On this basis, 10,000 per year involves an average of no more than about 28 footfalls per day.

Even this, however, is not enough. In NDPTU’s opinion, we can and should take it a step further. Whether a station can be regarded as ‘busy’ does not just depend on how many passengers it sees each day. It also depends on how many trains serve it.

If just one train serves it, then 28 footfalls will make it look quite busy, at least for that train. But what if it is served by 25 or even 30 trains each day? This means that, at this station, each train is picking up or setting down on average just one passenger. There may, of course, be half a dozen passengers for one train. On balance, however, there may be none at all for the next six. It does not look like such a busy station after all.

What, then, do we need to judge how busy the individual stations are?

NDPTU recommends that, for each station, we use three measures:

In the tables which follow we use all three measures. Of them, we hold the third, footfalls per train, to be the most significant for judging how busy each station is.

Guide to the table

The table below sets out a range of figures about how the stations on the Exeter–Barnstaple railway line relate to each other and how much they were used over the financial year 2017-2018.

We recommend close study of the table. As a quick guide, however, we suggest that readers should note the following points especially:

Table 15 : Exeter–Barnstaple Line Station Usage Figures 2017–2018
(See also Table 1 : Devon Towns — Populations and Stations)
Miles To Next Station STATION Train Service For Year Trains Per Day (avg.) Footfalls 2017–2018 % Of Total Footfalls (*) Footfalls Per Day (avg.) Footfalls Per Train (avg.)
4.25 Barnstaple 9070 [1] 26 440,404 71.1 1258.3 48.4
2.5 Chapelton 1700 5 188 0.0 [2] 0.5 0.1
4.0 Umberleigh 9020 26 34,784 5.6 99.4 3.8
3.0 Portsmouth Arms 1800 5 444 0.1 1.3 0.3
4.0 Kings Nympton 3620 10 6,640 1.1 19.0 1.9
3.75 Eggesford 9020 26 31,628 5.1 90.4 3.5
2.5 Lapford 2920 8 1,498 0.2 4.3 0.5
1.5 Morchard Road 8720 25 12,134 2.0 34.7 1.4
3.0 Copplestone 9020 26 15,262 2.5 43.6 1.7
3.75 Yeoford 9020 26 18,156 2.9 51.9 2.0
2.5 Crediton 9020 26 56,006 9.0 160.0 6.2
4.25 (ExStD) Newton St Cyres 3500 10 2,468 0.4 7.1 0.7
  ALL STATIONS     619,612      

Stations in bold were served by all trains during the year.

1 Barnstaple has more services than the other stations because the Friday night / Saturday morning late train back to Exeter St Davids served only Barnstaple and St Davids.
2 The percentage of Chapelton’s total footfalls is 0.0003, or 0.0 to the nearest single decimal place.
A Distance in miles to next station
B Station
C Total trains per station for the year 2017–2018.
D Average number of trains per day serving each station, calculated from full weekly timetable (Monday–Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
E Passengers for each station, 2017–2018: Office of Rail Regulation data
F Calculated from column E, to single decimal place
G Average number of passengers per day, based on 350 days (to allow for engineering and Bank Holiday closures), to single decimal place
H Average number of passengers per train, calculated by number of passengers 2017–2018 (column E) ÷ number of trains serving station in 2017–2018 (column C), to single decimal place

Compiled by North Devon Public Transport Users, January 2019


The Wider Context

We now consider the above station usage figures when compared with those for other rail lines radiating from Exeter, namely those to Axminster (and beyond to Salisbury and London Waterloo), Exmouth, and Paignton, which together with the Barnstaple branch comprise the Devon Metro project.

Figure 27 is a schematic diagram depicting the station usage figures for each of the above lines, in which the distance between stations is shown to scale. As can be clearly seen, with the exceptions of Barnstaple, Umberleigh, Eggesford and Crediton, usage of the Barnstaple line stations, including those served by every train, is very small compared with the other three lines; indeed, for the minor stations they resemble more closely the likely figures for a minibus service.

Radial diagram comparing station usage figures on lines into Exeter

Figures 28 and 29 show this comparison in bar chart form. In the first of these figures the stations are shown grouped into the four lines whilst in the second they are considered as a single group, although the individual lines use the same colour coding. In both figures the conclusion is immediate: usage of the minor stations on the Barnstaple line pales into insignificance in comparison with the other three lines.

Bar chart of station usage figures grouped by line into Exeter


Bar chart of station usage figures grouped by usage on lines into Exeter

Show data for 2016-2017

Show data for 2014-2015

Show data for 2013-2014

Show data for 2011-2012

Show data for 2010-2011

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